Solidarity, not charity

Around 35 people attended our G8 Alternatives workshop, 'Solidarity, not charity: how to make capitalism history', co-sponsored by the CPGB, Critique and the Communist Party of Turkey. The meeting's attendance was refreshingly diverse, with several other different left groups represented - the Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party, Workers Power and even the United Socialist Party, to name but a few. A common theme was how the Make Poverty History demonstration and indeed the entire campaign had been hijacked by the establishment - effectively perverting genuine human sentiments of outrage with the current state of Africa and the 'third world' into an exercise given backing by the mainstream media and, as some newspapers reported, even the new pope himself. Hillel Ticktin, editor of Critique, argued that this indicated the ability of the British ruling class to appropriate any popular manifestation of dissent. Comrade Ticktin argued, however, that this also indicates the sheer fragility of contemporary ruling class strategy in a period which, as a result of the attempt to break the power of the working class since the 1970s, investment has been focused in finance capital - severely reducing world employment and therefore growth. He went on to lambaste the vacuity of ruling class ideology in relation to poverty. There are no "technical reasons" for mass social deprivation in Africa, which has nothing to do with 'third world' corruption either - after the experience of big companies like Enron and World Com, anybody who believes corruption is unique to Africa is obviously not quite in touch with reality. Comrade Ticktin concluded that the "development of the third world can't occur without deliberate government intervention, huge levels of investment, mobilisation of the surplus centrally and on a planned basis" - the only answer was socialism. The speaker from the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP) argued that "any attempt to belittle this simultaneous international solidarity" would be counterproductive, and stressed the need for proletarian internationalism in an effort to overcome social chauvinism within our own movement. The fact that so many well-meaning people came out to express their anger with the plight of Africa is to welcomed, of course, and should not be sneered, but what is crucial is the politics of the demonstration and the forces that have hegemony over it - unfortunately those forces were not of the revolutionary left, which was clearly marginalised on Saturday's demonstration. The TKP speaker outlined the strings that are attached to aid - to simply call for more of the same is to be ignorant of its role in hiding the social relations that are responsible for the existence of poverty. By means of contrast he highlighted the aid that the Soviet Union gave Turkey in 1923 - sending specialist engineers, labour and money to build factories that still exist today. Mark Fischer of the CPGB stressed the need to draw "an implacable line of demarcation" between the genuine expression of humanity that brought so many people onto the streets and the official campaign that had distorted this sentiment and turned it into a pro-establishment rally. He outlined the CPGB's approach, which is one of opposition to the entire notion of charity and a deserving, downtrodden poor. Instead the CPGB fights for solidarity and people taking their lives into their own hands. An example he gave was the experience of the 1984-85 miners' Great Strike, when the British and international working class gave money and food to workers in struggle against the state - this is something that the official structures of charity do not allow for and another reason why we must steer clear from them. He called for the distribution of aid to be democratically controlled by the working class in both donor and recipient countries. Liberation from below should be of course the main emphasis of the left - many of the MPH protestors have blind faith in the ability of eight men to change the world, reflecting the logic of establishment textbooks, who play down or completely ignore the role of the masses in changing history. It is of course indicative of the fragmentation of Marxist politics and the left's lack of confidence in the veracity of Marxist ideas that its largest organisations have failed to genuinely highlight the difference between charity and proletarian solidarity. The ensuing debate was varied and interesting. Peter Manson from the CPGB emphasised how a failure to critically engage with the Make Poverty History campaign did nothing to challenge the establishment consensus. He went on to point out the link between the left's marginalisation and its failure to fight for what was needed: a democratic and centralised Communist Party - the only force that could really challenge bourgeois hegemony. Indeed this topic of how the left should organise beyond the confines of the sect occupied a large part of the discussion and, given the diversity of the audience, made for interesting debate. A comrade from the League for the Fifth International rightly pointed out that the left's problem is precisely that it suffers from a lack of democracy and transparency, something that is absolutely necessary if we are to pose any coherent agenda to obtain a consistent, revolutionary hegemony over the different manifestations of human feeling that arise in society. The CPGB's Cameron Richards welcomed the opportunity for different left tendencies to freely debate with each other, whilst criticising the young comrade from the Socialist Party for his organisation's failure to translate its words about a workers' party into action (eg, by walking out of the Socialist Alliance), and its insistence that such a party had to be 'broad' - ie, reformist. Arguably the most interesting contribution from the floor came from a long-standing SWPer who, rather surprisingly, said that he had enjoyed the meeting and welcomed the criticism of his own organisation - something that one seldom hears from SWP comrades. He agreed with the slogan, 'Solidarity, not charity', but defended the SWP policy of building Make Poverty History as he said that out there was a "mass movement" which we must tap into - a movement that the left, even the SWP, is "nothing" in comparison to. However, given the fact that many of these people were probably getting involved in politics for the first time, we should relate to this movement on "another level" - which was, he said, totally different from "dropping our politics". This was the role of Respect - a "temporary home" for people being drawn into politics for the first time. Summing up, Mark Fischer said in reply that Marxism requires not so much a stress at the moment on our numbers, rather the principles and theory we have accumulated through past struggles and experience - if we do not take these into the political arena then we are precisely nothing, certainly not Marxists. He went on to argue that unity does not exclude criticism - in many ways this meeting reflected precisely that point, with different tendencies united in their commitment to making capitalism history, but able to debate their differences. The interventions from the different comrades were most welcome and will be indispensable to the development of a future left force that is able to stamp a working class agenda on society and present demonstrations like the Make Poverty History demonstration with a viable alternative to paternalistic charity-mongering l Ben Lewis